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When the former president sticks around the campus

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Dr. Charlie Nelms, Senior Scholar of the American State University Association and Senior Consultant of the Board of Directors

The retired university president may still be active in the institution he once taught, such as teaching courses as a tenure faculty member. During the transition of leadership, it can mean that the new president must carefully balance between their vision and the institutional memory of the former president.

Dr. Robert T. Palmer, Associate Professor and Chair of Educational Leadership, said: Policy research at Howard University. “The stay of the former president could be a role model for current students by teaching courses and serving educational institutions in other beneficial positions. That person shakes the administration. I think this will be a challenge if the new president is really involved in trying to exert influence without allowing his vision to come to life. “

Dr. Charlie Nelms has served as president of three universities, including the Prime Minister of North Carolina Central University. Like Palmer, Nerms emphasizes the importance of the former president resigning and creating space for his successor, and for his successor, the importance of respecting past presidential choices. Emphasized. Nelms is a senior scholar at the American State University Association and a senior consultant at the Board of Directors Association.

“In my three presidency, the former president has never been involved in an institution in a particularly inappropriate way,” said Nerms. “And one of the advices I give to all the new presidents is this. Never put yourself in a position to criticize your predecessor. What is your situation with her, him, or theirs? I don’t know what it was — and whatever it was, it wasn’t what you were dealing with right now. As you are now, those people are as much as they can under the circumstances in which they are distributed. I’m sure I did my best. “

H. Patrick Swigert, Honorary President of Howard University and Professor of Law, agreed. From 1995 to 2008, Swigert was President of Howard, and he continues to be devoted to the University and his successor president. Recently, Swygert led an effort to win a $ 16.8 million award from the PNC Bank for Howard’s School of Business, funded by the founding of Howard University and the PNC Bank National Center for Entrepreneurship.

“Every president-elect or new president has his own vision and is working on that vision,” he said. “And in my view, one of the things a retiring president shouldn’t do is somehow interfere with that vision.”

Dr. Alvin Shexneider, a former Prime Minister of Winston-Salem State University and now a senior consultant to the Board of Directors, can also play a major role in ensuring a smooth leadership transition for the institution’s board of directors. Said.

“I think a lot depends on the institution itself,” he said. “I know a university that is fairly intentional about the board’s use of institutional knowledge or institutional memory and that utilizes the kind of relationships that institutions have built up over the years. Can be important in helping successors build these connections. “

Schexnider explained that the first few months after the inauguration of the new president is often to learn a particular culture of the institution. The president hears and observes foreign things, and if the new president asks for help, the former president around the campus can act almost like an interpreter.

However, Schexnider and Palmer emphasized that it is best for the new president to take the initiative and seek advice from the former president, rather than the honorary president stepping on his toes, whether careless or not.

“The new president must still be carefully open, as the old president may have encountered some obstacles because of his creation,” said Palmer, who studies higher education leadership. rice field. “So, as the current president, you can get some advice, but you still need to have the mental leeway to act in your own gut.

Dr. Felesia Comodore, an assistant professor of education infrastructure and leadership at Old Dominion University, is also studying leadership in higher education. She pointed out that some migrations can be more difficult than others.

“I think it’s a more delicate situation when there was a long-standing or highly-loved president before the new president. In reality, this new person somehow inherits someone else’s. “I’m doing it,” said Commodore. “There is also a kind of sadness that the campus can experience with the retirement of a beloved or long-time president. So new people come in and people are often excited, but they hope with this sadness. I’m navigating. “

Commodore added that the university risks being considered an “extension of its personality” when an institution becomes very closely associated with the former president. This can make leadership shifts difficult and can jeopardize the lifespan of educational institutions.

Some former presidents intend to move to another city far from the original institution.

Dr. Walter M. Kimbro, who resigned as president of Dillard University in New Orleans ten years later, said he remained in NOLA, at least for now.

“I’m going to be around as an active citizen,” he told columnist Will Sutton, ready between jobs as an executive at the University of Southern California (USC) Race and Equity Center. I added. To support Dr. Rochelle Ford, the new president of the school.

“I’m a 24/7 helpline,” he said. “There is only one president at a time.”

For Nerms, this distinction between the institution and the individual in its power is important. Understanding the greater purpose of work can make all the difference, whether or not the former president is still around the campus.

“The lesson of the story is this: the system is bigger than the individual,” he said. “And each one has the opportunity to serve the institution during surveillance, but what we need to be careful about is not to confuse their watches with ours.”

You can contact Rebecca Kelliher at